Brian Lara- New Unauthorised Biography
Brian Lara —a man set apart
Sunday, June 23, 2013
English journalist James Fuller spent five years in T&T painstakingly researching the life and career of the country’s proudest cricketing son. The resulting work, Brian Lara: An Unauthorised Biography, charts its subject’s rise from a Cantaro native to world-conquering batsman while offering unique insights into what made the famously complex individual tick.
Fuller set out to tell Lara’s story from a Caribbean perspective, drawing on the testimonies of family members, neighbours, classmates, teachers, teammates and coaches to provide the inside scoop on the man responsible for some of international cricket’s most memorable moments of the past 25 years. A must-read for any West Indian cricket fan, the book is destined to become a fixture on bookshelves and coffee tables throughout the region.
Fuller, whose wife Farah is Trinidadian, spoke to the T&T Guardian recently from their present home in Tauranga, New Zealand, where he is a senior writer at the Bay of Plenty Times. He talked about Lara’s enigmatic nature, his polarising reputation in T&T and the qualities which distinguished him from the rest of the pack.
“Lara is incredibly interesting both as a player and as a character,” he explained. “Steve Waugh called him charming, vulnerable, endearing, moody and impossible to work out at times and endlessly fascinating. He’s also unquestionably one of the greatest batsmen that has ever lived but not just because of the scores he made. The artistry and supreme confidence with which he batted, the sense of excitement he generated in a crowd, truly set him apart.”
A long-time cricket fan, Fuller was thrilled to be offered the project by Macmillan Publishers, who were looking for a modern icon to profile for their Caribbean Lives series following biographies of Bob Marley, Che Guevara, Learie Constantine and Jimmy Cliff. Fuller believes Lara was a fitting choice. In his view, Lara deserves to be ranked above Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting as the best batsman of his generation.
“It depends on what you look for of course, what characteristics appeal most to you, but I usually come back to a simple question: Who would you pay to watch?... Would you wake up on the morning of a Test match and think ‘I’m watching (Jacques) Kallis bat today,’ with quite the same anticipation as ‘I’m watching Lara bat today?’ I know I wouldn’t.
It therefore came as a surprise to hear Lara’s achievements being downplayed by some Trinidadians, among them his wife’s Princes Town-based relatives during a Christmas get-together.
“Again, the man is not a saint, but it’s a leap to say he brought down regional cricket. He actually provided the few moments of pride during that time.” Another recurring theme is Lara’s struggle against the pressures of fame and the weight of expectations while carrying a team in decline. Fuller takes a largely sympathetic view.
“What set him apart was that element of genius, the verve, the swagger with which he batted. Some might say Tendulkar possesses that as well, and he does, but not to the same degree and not for the extended periods of time Lara displayed it. Tendulkar is a wonderful player to watch but cannot compare with Lara’s ability to compile such enormous scores. Nobody but (Don) Bradman really does, and that is probably as much of a statement as you need.”
‘Doh talk tuh meh ’bout Lara’
They were arguing that Lara “was selfish, how he only batted for himself, then others countered with how he’d carried the West Indies for ten years and was still the best in the region. We have a quieter uncle in the family who took this for a certain length of time before rising and declaring: ‘Doh talk tuh meh ’bout Lara, Lara finish.’ At which point he stormed off to refill his scotch glass.
“Bearing in mind Lara had reclaimed the Test record with 400 against England just a year earlier it would be hard to argue, at least in such emphatic terms, he was finished. It was an eye-opener.” Fuller said he believed the criticism was symptomatic of some West Indians’ tendency to undervalue their own.
“In England, and pretty much the rest of the world actually, he is simply viewed as a genius… David Rudder said to me that the Caribbean can be a strange place at times where even its own heroes are never quite good enough. He’s experienced it himself, of course, and I think he has a point.” The book explores Lara’s often strained relationship with the West Indies Cricket Board and addresses long-held theories about his role in the demise of West Indies cricket—though Fuller was quick to dismiss such charges.
“I always thought that such discussions were incredibly convenient for the WICB, who were supposedly looking after cricket regionally. Just taking a step back and looking at it logically, who is the more likely culprit: a single player, or an entire organisation charged with the well-being of the game? Was Lara responsible for the lack of fast bowling talent which emerged in the 1990s (with the exception of Walsh and Ambrose) and early 2000s?
‘The man is not a saint’
“It would take an almost inhuman character not to be affected, one way or another, by the level of fame and success which Lara had. And very few people have had their lives subjected to the microscope in quite the same way. Those periods of erratic behaviour and erratic decisions were frequently when he was under the most intense pressure, with everyone wanting a piece of him every minute of the day.”
The book largely avoids any gossip surrounding Lara’s personal life, opting to focus on his world as it related to cricket. “Everyone in Trinidad seems to know someone who knows Lara and has a story to relate, and those stories are taken as gospel. This book wasn’t ever intended to be a muck-raking exercise and I found a lot of (the stories) could largely be categorised as hearsay and rumour… The focus of the Caribbean Lives series is more on celebrating Caribbean figures and their contribution to the region and wider world.”
Having immersed himself in everything Lara for five years, the author said his admiration for the former West Indies captain was as strong as ever.
“I have a newfound appreciation of what it takes to do what he did and the immense pressure he was under for pretty much the whole of his career… Lara did what he did always as the primary focus of the opposition attack, invariably as a de-facto opener, because West Indies would be one-down pretty quickly, so he was facing the new ball from the off, often with his side in trouble and without the stellar support some of the batsmen of the 1980s enjoyed.”
Lara declined to be involved with the publication of the book, though Fuller believes he was within his rights to do so, and bears no resentment. To meet the demands of his publisher, the author had to cut 15,000 words from his original 80,000-word manuscript while keeping its “essence” intact, eventually settling on 252 pages. Throughout its writing, he was careful to ensure it would appeal to non-cricket fans as well.
“I’m a bit of a cricket addict, and it would’ve been pretty easy to have got carried away and written it from that standpoint. That could easily have made it dry and impenetrable and I was very conscious I didn’t want it to be.” Apart from the nagging mosquitoes, Fuller enjoyed his years in T&T, befriending locals, bonding with his wife’s extended family and playing league cricket for Christian Conquerors. Currently working on another book on West Indies cricket, he said the memories of his five-year adventure in T&T will be treasured.
“I have to say I had a blast,” he said. “It is people that make an experience, and my wife and I were lucky to find plenty of gems to share our journey with.”
(Trinidad Guardian, Sunday June 23rd.2013)